How Comic Books Taught Me Geography

As a kid, some of my geography education came about due to superhero comics. Sure, I knew that, in DC Comics, the likes of Metropolis and Gotham City were not real-life cities on the East Coast of the United States. I knew that Solovar, a nation that was home to sentient apes, could not be found on a map of the world. I did get all that.

I was also aware that Marvel Comics used some fictional locations, i.e. Wakanda, home of the Black Panther. Or Latveria, the nation that Doom rules with an iron fist (sounds similar to Latvia, though, right?). That said, Marvel did use a lot of real cities in its stories, most notably New York City, found in, of course, the state of New York. In recent years, we’ve seen Los Angeles and San Francisco used in various Marvel tales.

Now, comics are, first and foremost, meant to be about entertainment. We read them, or should read them, in order to immerse ourselves in the exploits of Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, etc. Mind you, who said comics can’t be educational in a certain sense? Who actually went and looked up gamma rays in an encyclopedia? I did. Back to geography, though: the likes of Spider-Man had fantastic adventures in the city of New York. Boroughs such as Manhattan and Queens were mentioned. So as I grew up, I got to learn where all these places were. I knew that if Marvel was using real cities, it was bound to be using real boroughs, too. There would have been little point in having Spider-Man tales set in New York whilst creating fictional boroughs. So I did get some of my New York geography education from our favourite web-slinger.

It wasn’t just geography, either. Let me return to science: I knew at the time, even as a silly child, that Stan Lee and others were probably not 100% familiar with cosmic radiation, gamma radiation, etc. However, when reading about such forms of radiation, it did encourage me to seek out the real facts in science books. I remember asking my mum about radiation as a child (she had worked in a hospital) and she did mention how radiation could be used in the treatment of certain cancers. I looked up cosmic rays in a book years later. And it wasn’t just about radiation. When Batman used a forensic science technique, I appreciated artistic licence was used, but as someone who is naturally curious, I would go off in search of information pertaining to real-life forensic science.

There are numerous other examples, too. For a while, as a kid, I struggled with the spelling of San Francisco. The first ‘C’ in Francisco was usually substituted with an ‘S’ (back in the day before home computers and spellchecker). Of course, when you keep reading the name of that city in comics, your brain eventually lets you know what the correct spelling is.

Who said comics can never be educational? Let them remain as forms of entertainment primarily, but if teaching you a thing or two, or encouraging you to learn something later on, becomes a byproduct of the entertaining world of comics, then so be it.

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4 thoughts on “How Comic Books Taught Me Geography

  1. I suspect that you learned a lot of the same sort of things I picked up from reading science fiction. One difference being that you thought being bitten by a radioactive spider would give you superpowers, while I thought it was more likely to be thanks to the efforts of (possibly mad) scientists.

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  2. Absolutely. I need to read more science fiction (I purchased two books over Xmas: “The Martian Chronicles” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”). I wonder what I’ll learn. Quite a few books and comics do pay lip service to or attempt to give us some science insight.

    Thanks for your comment, Māyā.

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